In Tajikistan, known to some as the 'land of rugged mountains', agriculture provides the backbone of the economy and supports the livelihoods of two-thirds of rural communities. Yet the steep terrain that characterizes the country means that only 7 per cent of land is suitable for farming. As pressure on available land has mounted, so too have unsustainable agricultural practices, leading to depleted soils, deforestation and waning productivity. These challenges have been further exacerbated by climate change.
In light of the growing pressures on the country's natural resource base and the subsequent squeeze increasingly felt by its poorest communities, the government of Tajikistan has decided to realign its national development plan to tackle the duel challenge of environmental protection and poverty alleviation.
Evidence of this can be seen in the northern region of Sughd, where the government - with support from the UNDP-UNEP Poverty-Environment Initiative (PEI) ? has worked with communities and regional policy makers to showcase the need for poverty alleviation investments that help, not hamper, environmental protection. The project in Sughd was designed to convince national policy makers that investments in poverty alleviation would be more effective in the long run if they also bolster a healthy and stable environment.
Showcasing green enterprise
Recent analysis of revenue flows in the region of Sughd ? Tajikistan's economic powerhouse - showed that key investments were not accounting for environmental or social issues. International donors had been focusing on job creation and income generation while local micro-finance lenders were offering loans on the basis of a single criterion: return on investment.
In a bid to showcase smarter, more sustainable investments, the PEI team supported local communities to set up 'green' products and services. Their efforts have resulted in the establishment of over 65 successful enterprises which adhere to both environmental and poverty reduction criteria, and have supported jobs for women who are now, for the first time, empowered to dictate their own destinies - no longer dependent on unreliable handouts from abroad.
Through such projects, the PEI team demonstrated that green enterprise can both reduce poverty and keep environmental impacts within acceptable limits.
Working from the bottom-up
The project in Sughd also tackled the government's previous struggle to convert its national directives on environmental sustainability into meaningful progress on the ground. By building the capacity of regional and district level officials to integrate environmental issues into their development plans, the PEI demonstrated to policy makers that a transition to a poverty-environment development approach would be both simple and financially viable.
A step in the right direction
Although experts admit there is still a long way to go in Tajikistan, the success seen in the Sughd region has convinced national decision makers to design a new national development plan that simultaneously tackles the country's poverty and environment concerns.
The new national strategy has yet to be finalized. However it is likely that several key areas, such as energy and water resources, will be revised with a new poverty-environment focus.
The reform taking place in Tajikistan is happening amidst a backdrop of growing consensus in the international community that the new global post-2015 development agenda must balance the three dimensions of sustainable development - environmental, social, and economic ? which are interdependent and must be addressed together in an integrated approach.
Tajikistan is already taking steps in this direction and has laid the foundations for a pathway to sustainable development that will lift its most vulnerable communities out of poverty, while, safeguarding the natural assets on which future generations will continue to depend.